chariot, earliest and simplest type of carriage and the chief vehicle of many ancient peoples. The chariot was known among the Babylonians before the introduction of horses c.2000 B.C. and was first drawn by asses. The chariot and horse introduced into Egypt c.1700 B.C. by the Hyksos invaders undoubtedly contributed to their military success. Simultaneously the use of the chariot spread over the Middle East, chiefly as a war machine. The Assyrians are credited with introducing chariots with scythes mounted on the wheels as weapons, a type later adopted by the Persians. In Greece and Rome the chariot was never used to any extent in war, possibly because of generally unfavorable topography. It was, however, prominent in games and processions, becoming in Rome the inevitable carriage of the triumphal procession. Here also the chariot races of the circus were developed. The ancient chariot was a very light vehicle, drawn by two or more horses hitched side by side. The car was little else than a floor with a waist-high semicircular guard in front. British chariots were open in front, had a curved wall behind, often had seats, and sometimes had scythes on the wheels.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.